What Is the Christian Sabbath?

What Is the Christian Sabbath? 

I have found many Christians resist the Sabbath as a New Covenant ordinance mainly because of bad representations of Sabbatarianism. There are obviously many Christians who reject the Sabbath because of biblical arguments, but my aim is to eliminate bad Sabbatarianism as a reason for rejection. Please allow me to attempt to encourage you with a positive—I think beautiful—case for what Christians should do on Sundays. If you’re a non-Sabbatarian, I hope this will make you at least think, “Sabbatarians are not crazy.” If you are a Sabbatarian, I hope this will strengthen your observance of the Lord’s Day. 

One key for Sabbath-keeping is to hear what Jesus said in Mark 2.27. The Pharisees rebuked the disciples for harvesting grain on a Sabbath. Jesus corrected them by explaining they were not sinning in doing so, just as David was not sinning by feeding his cohort with priestly bread. The moral law of love superseded ceremonial commands about the priesthood. In a similar way, he reminded the Pharisees, The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.In other words, the Sabbath is for our good; it is not a lord for us to bow down to. We do not serve it; it serves us. The Sabbath is a gift.

A gift from who? Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made.” Made by whom? 

Answer: God made the Sabbath, and made it as a gift for us.

That begs the question: When did he make it?

The obvious answer is at the first week of creation. 

Genesis 2.1–3:

1Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

Here are a few ways to help you envision healthy Sabbath-keeping:

  1. God rested — We know that when God commands us to remember the Sabbath (Exodus 20.8), he is not commanding us to “get some physical rest,” because God does not physically rest. God was not tired. We should get rid of the idea that taking a Sabbath is because we need a break. God did not take a break.
  1. Yet he truly rested — that is what the text says. The word “rested” is related to the word for “seat” or “dwelling place.” Picture God sitting on his throne. This is a picture of a king ruling over his kingdom. Remember he told mankind earlier to have dominion, because we are made in the King’s image; he has ultimate dominion, and we are to be like him. No wonder those created in God’s image naturally want to use the Sabbath to worship the King.
  1. God is enjoying creation — From Genesis 1, we know what it looks like when God is not creating. God created the world in six days, but he’s not creating every single minute of those first six days, is he? He also looks at his creation at different times and sees that it is good, and at the end of day six, very good. When God is not creating—and surely when God finishes all his work of creating—he is seeing, or looking on with pleasure. God rested in order to enjoy his creation! He is ruling, reigning, and enjoying his creation.

The flip side of that for those made in God’s image—those who are like him, those who reflect his glory—the flip side is that we must enjoy our Creator. Worship and enjoy God. That sounds like a gift.

Then, to make it all the more clear that God made the day for us:

  1. God blessed the Sabbath — “3 So God blessed the seventh day”which means from the first week of creation until the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the entire world was under the calendar in which the seventh day was “blessed.” When you consider that the first six days were filled with God saying, “good…good…very good,” how good must the Sabbath day be! That day was uniquely blessed among all the good days. The Sabbath is a blessing from your Creator.
  1. God sanctified the Sabbath — and made it holy.” There are many ways this could be translated: God made it holy, God sanctified it, God consecrated it, God set it apart. Clearly, the Sabbath is the Lord’s Day. He made it for our good, to be devoted to him. The Sabbath was not a new institution at Mt. Sinai and the giving of the 10 Commandments. God instituted a Sabbath Day principle—in which Israel was called to “remember”—at creation. 

But shouldn’t all our days be devoted to God?

Yes, and God blessed the seventh day and made it holy. The Sabbath is a uniquely holy day. What better way to spend a uniquely holy day than in the worship of God. The true believers in the Old Covenant seemed to understand this (see Psalm 92). And on the day of the resurrection, New Covenant believers seemed to understand that Sunday was now uniquely blessed, and a day to be devoted to the Lord (see altogether Matt 28.9; Acts 20.7; 1 Cor 16.2; Rev 1.10).

It is no secret that our flesh would love to use the Sabbath for other things, even other lawful things. But will soccer games, surfing, or even sleeping, make you as happy as worshiping and enjoying your Creator, along with other blood-bought saints especially? Perhaps the best way to enjoy the Sabbath is not to focus on the things the Pharisees loved to focus on: do not carry your mat, do not heal, do not pick grain. Or perhaps in modern terms, “do not watch football, do not go shopping, do not cook.” Rather, let us take this as the gift that the Bible says it is: worship and enjoy God more than any other day.


Recommended Resources:

  • William Gouge, The Sabbath’s Sanctification
  • J.C. Ryle, The Sabbath: A Day to Keep
  • Robert Paul Martin, The Christian Sabbath.
  • G.K. Beale, New Testament Biblical Theology (chapter 23)